Recent debate on female body attractiveness has centered around the relative contributions of body-mass index (weight/height2: BMI) and waist-hip ratio (circumference of narrowest part of waist/circumference of widest part of hips/buttocks: WHR) on evaluations of female body attractiveness. The results from direct comparisons are consistent: BMI influences attractiveness ratings more than WHR.
Using scanned, rotating 3D images of Caucasian female figures as stimuli and attractiveness ratings made by Chinese students, Fan and colleagues (2004) published the following scatter plot (these plots show the male ratings only – there was no significant difference in the female ratings) of WHR and attractiveness rating (AR):
and of BMI and AR:
Several things are apparent:
BMI has a closer relationship to AR than does WHR
- BMI accounts for 72.7% of variance in AR
- WHR accounts for 1.4% of variance in AR
BMI/AR data appear to have a logarithmic trend
- Log(BMI) accounts for 80.4% of variance in AR
- Log(WHR) accounts for 1.7% of variance in AR
Having created 3D scans of their stimuli, Fan and colleagues were able to calculate the actual volume of each woman’s body. This calculation enabled them to introduce a third ratio: volume height index (body volume/chin height2: VHI). Given that BMI is an inexact estimate of body size/shape, it is likely that a more precise ratio: like body volume and height (at the chin) would predict attractiveness more precisely than BMI. And this is exactly what was found: Log(VHI) accounted for approximately 90% of the variance in attractiveness ratings in this study. A subsequent study (Fan et.al., 2007), that included digitally created, low-VHI bodies found the optimal female volume/height index to be approximately 14 liters/meter2.
Other factors contribute to female body attractiveness: leg length, waist, hip, and bust proportions, but these features seem to enter raters’ consideration after a preliminary analysis of body size.
Current data does suggest that size cues take priority over secondary sexual characteristic cues in evaluations of body attractiveness. It is tempting to suggest that size matters more than shape in evaluating female body attractiveness – but any statement of this sort would be premature. It is unlikely that perceivers estimate body size without utilizing shape cues and unclear what role secondary sexual characteristic cues play in this estimate. Perhaps eye-tracking studies are an appropriate next step?
Fan, J., Liu, F., Wu, J., & Dai, W. (2004). Visual perception of female physical attractiveness Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 271 (1537), 347-352 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2003.2613
Fan, J., Dai, W., Quan, X., Chau, K., & Liu, Q. (2007). Effects of shape parameters on the attractiveness of a female body. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 105, 117-132 PMID: 17918555